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Code Signing Certificate vs SSL Certificate: What’s The Difference?

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What each certificate type does and who should be using them

Code Signing Certificates and SSL Certificates are both digital certificates that use public key encryption, but that’s about where the similarities end. The underlying technical difference between a code signing certificate and a ssl certificate is small, but they’re security solutions for very different purposes.

Let’s look at the difference between Comodo Code Signing Certificates and Comodo SSL Certificates.

What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate is a piece of software that enables HTTPS on a website through the use of public key encryption. This enables the Secure label and padlock in your browser:

SSL and HTTPS enables the Secure Address Bar

The SSL certificate authenticates the server to web browsers and facilitates a secured connection by encrypting communication between the website and its users. All modern SSL Certificates offer the same level of encryption, but they differ in terms of the authentication offered.

  • Domain Validation SSL certificates only authenticate the server, they offer no information the owner of the server or website itself.
  • Organization Validation SSL certificates authenticate both the server and the organization, that information is available by viewing the certificate details.
  • Extended Validation SSL certificates authenticate the server and the organization, going so far as to display the organization’s name in browsers’ address bars.

Bottom line: SSL certificates enable HTTPS to secure the communication to and from websites.

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What is a Code Signing Certificate?

A Code Signing Certificate authenticates the identity of a software developer or publisher and provides assurance that the signed piece of software has not been altered or tampered with. This is done by applying a digital signature and hashing it along with the software itself.

When a user attempts to download a piece of unsigned software the browser or antivirus program they’re running will flag it and insert a warning about it originating from an “unknown source” like this:

Unknown Publisher Install Warning - Self-Signed Code Signing Certificate

Code signing certificates help software developers avoid security warnings like this.

However, if the software is signed using a Comodo Code Signing certificate, the browser will trust the download and let it proceed. The browser will also be able to perform a check in the background that verifies the integrity of the signed code download.

There is also an Extended Validation version of Comodo Code Signing certificates, it helps developers by providing them with a substantial Microsoft Authenticode reputation boost with the Microsoft SmartScreen filter. The private key for these certificates also comes stored on an external hardware token for greater security.

Best of all, Comodo is one of the few CAs that offers Code Signing for individual developers, too. So whether you’re part of a team or doing it on your own, Comodo has a Code Signing certificate for you.

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Code Signing vs SSL Certificate FAQs

Can I use code signing and SSL certificates interchangeably?

No. Although both are digital certificates, they are validated differently and have different enhanced key usages listed in the certificate. Trying to use one instead of the other will result in errors.

How do code signing certificate vs SSL certificate expiration dates work?

There’s an important different between code signing and ssl when it comes to expiration dates, also. If your website has an expired SSL certificate, it will trigger scary warnings to your user.

If a software executable was signed with a code signing certificate that is now invalid, no errors will display as long as the code signing certificate was valid when the code was signed and timestamped.

So, what is the difference between SSL certificates and Code Signing certificates?

If you’re comparing code signing certificates vs ssl certificates, here’s the basic difference:

  • SSL Certificates are for websites to enable HTTPS urls.
  • Code Signing is for applying a digital signature to software and code to avoid security warnings when installing it.

Another key difference is that SSL/TLS encrypts all communication between clients and servers, Code Signing doesn’t actually encrypt the software– it encrypts the signature and timestamp as part of the signature block. The actually integrity test is done via hashing.

Either way, if you needed to sum code signing certificate vs SSL certificate differences up in a sentence it would be: SSL encrypts websites, Code Signing protects software.